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Review: Apple's new 3G iPod nano is a 5G video iPod in a nano-thin shell

Nano Games

The 3G Nano comes with three Games: Apple's Vortex, iQuiz, and a color Klondike solitaire game. However, Apple lists iPod Games in the iTunes Store as only being for the 5G iPods, noting that "Tetris, Ms. Pac-Man, and Soduku will soon be compatible with the iPod nano (video) and iPod Classic."

Sure enough, games I'd already purchased for my now stolen 5G iPod--including Cubis 2, Texas Hold'Em, Pac-Man and Zuma--wouldn't sync over to the new Nano. That's a big disappointment, as the games were one reason I'd bought the Nano. Having multiple categories of games that aren't compatible with the various iPod models is confusing. Apple should clarify its Games section in iTunes and make separate sections for the 5G iPods and newer 3G Nano/iPod Classic.

I also think Apple should deliver an emulator for the OS X based iPod Touch and iPhone to allow them to play existing 5G iPod Games. It could also offer it for the Apple TV, allowing users to play simple games on Apple TV using its basic remote. Until that happens, Apple and its partners at PopCap, Fresh, Gameloft, and EA are cranking out games for a limited audience. Why? One might think Apple would realize on its own that deploying a common gaming platform is rather critical to its game sales.

Third-gen iPod nano

Making all of the games compatible with the different versions of video iPods seems like an important way to encourage game purchases. Since the games are $5 or less, it isn't as big of a deal, but selling the Nano as a game playing iPod without having any games ready for purchase is an outstanding flaw in an otherwise well executed product launch. Meanwhile, the iPhone hasn't seen any official games introductions in two months, and apart from YouTube support, the Apple TV hasn't seen any interesting software advancements from Apple either.

That also calls into question Apple's closed development strategy for the iPods, iPhone, and Apple TV. It certainly needs to step things up if it wants to develop real interest in casual game sales. If Apple can't manage to do it internally, it should outline guidelines to enable other developers to do the games for it. As it is, there's a lot of potential that simply rotting on the vine. While other gaming developers are losing money giving away consoles in order to establish a platform, Apple has one already. It needs to get on the ball and deliver unified content to take advantage of that. The ability of the Nano to play games might help things take off, but only if iTunes straightens out the problems with its bare shelves and compatibility issues among different game playing iPod models.

Third-gen iPod nano

It is cool that Apple installed three free games to start 3G Nano users off with, rather than demanding a few extra bucks. Along with the three promised Nano titles, that suggests Apple hopes to quickly get games rolling with the Nano.

Updated iPod Menus and Applications

The Nano's high density screen also shows off Apple's new iPod user interface. Only mentioned in passing at Apple's iPod event, the new UI features animated graphics that reinforce the menus. Rather than scanning through lots of plain text, the new Nano and Classic now present menus across the left half of the screen, with animated graphics appearing on the right. Menus also animate to swoosh in from the sides, making the menus feel alive, fresh, modern, and inviting. Since it reflects your own content, it's also very personalized.

For example, in the Music menu, as you go from Playlists and Music, your album art drifts along in a Ken Burns effect to the right, and a subtle drop shadow makes them appear to live on a deeper plane than the foreground menus. Go to the Video, Photos, and Podcast menus, and similar art appears on the right: movie posters, your own photos, and podcast title artwork. This makes exploring the Nano's menus a somewhat similar experience to FrontRow on the Apple TV.

A new Search function works slightly different than the previous one introduced in last year's 5.5G iPod. The Search field lets you enter items by letter using the clickwheel, and refined results popup as letters are entered. At any time, a click drops you into the search results, with list both albums and songs, as well as videos. It might take a moment to realize that entered letters can be deleted with a back click. Letters are entered by spinning the clickwheel and clicking on the letter. There's no way to search for numbers, so if you were looking for Feist's "1234," you're out of luck. There's also no way to enter a space.

However, since you are searching your own limited amount of content, you can probably manage to find what you're looking for with just a letter or two; even two letters breaks down a couple thousand items into a few dozen results to scan through. As with the 5G iPods, alphabetical letters pop up as you rapidly run though listings, making it easy to find needles in the 8 GB haystack even without performing a search.

Third-gen iPod nano

Under Playlists, the Nano adds automated Recently Played and Recently Added to the common On-The-Go listing. Browsing music by Genres shows you how many artists and albums you have in each genre. Selecting songs by Artist or Song provides a simple text listing, while the Albums listing include small cover art. Audiobooks, TV, Movies, and Podcast listings also display a small cover art in their listings.

Third-gen iPod nano

Photo browsing is similar to previous iPods. Clicking next and previous buttons advances through the pictures, and pushing play starts an automatic slideshow with random transitions thrown in to spice things up. You can manually set it to play music from a given playlist during the slideshow; turn photo transitions off or set them to use one of a specific number of styles rather than random; set the time per slide to 2, 3, 5, 10, or 20 seconds; and configure it to output the photos to a TV using a component output cable.

Third-gen iPod nano

While playing a slideshow out to TV, the Nano shows a countdown timer, and a queue of photos, including the photo being displayed on the TV and the previous and next photos. You can also manually go back to previous photos by simply clicking the back button. That makes the new Nano a decent option to carrying around a laptop for a presentation, or a cheap way to present a kiosk of slides using a regular TV. Simply load up your slides as images and pack around your Keynote presentation in your smallest pocket, like a mini Apple TV with better software.

On page 3: Nano Extras and Settings.